The Macalope Weekly: It's a wonder

This week the Macalope wonders how the Surface is doing, pundits wonder about an Apple television, and you’ll wonder if you can get back the ten minutes of your life that you spent reading this Guardian article.

Brittle Surface

It’s time once again to check in on the Surface, Windows 8, and all things Microsoft as we sit down to another coffee klatsch between the Macalope and his old pal, the Winotaur.

WINOTAUR: Oh, shut up!

MACALOPE: I haven’t said anything yet!

WINOTAUR: Oh. Right. Sorry. I … uh, go ahead.

MACALOPE: You seem a little tense.

WINOTAUR: Me? No. I’m not tense at all. You’re the one who’s tense.

MACALOPE: Uh … OK. So … how’s it going with the Surface RT?

WINOTAUR: Great! Couldn’t be better. We’re well within the standard deviation on our sales projections.

MACALOPE: Uhhh, huh. So, you don’t buy it when analysts say sales have been disappointing?

WINOTAUR: Not at all! What does “disappointing” even mean? That’s just a word that describes a feeling. Do I feel disappointed?

MACALOPE: …

WINOTAUR: …

MACALOPE: Well? Do you?

WINOTAUR: We are well within the standard deviation on our sales projections.

MACALOPE: You keep saying that. Do you know what that means?

WINOTAUR: I … um … no. I … don’t. It was in an email that went out after Ballmer said sales were “modest.” I think it means “Don’t say ‘modest.’”

MACALOPE: Actually, that’s probably exactly what it means. Look, the Macalope doesn’t mean to tell you your business here …

WINOTAUR: HA.

MACALOPE: Uh, yeah, OK, that’s fair. But doesn’t it seem like you should have figured out what problem you were trying to solve with the Surface before shipping it?

WINOTAUR: What problem we were trying to solve? The Surface is a problem-solving machine!

MACALOPE: The Macalope means your customers’ problems. Not your problem of being completely irrelevant in the tablet market.

WINOTAUR: Oh. But the Surface solves plenty of problems! Like the problem of when you’re relaxing on the couch and you really want to edit an Excel spreadsheet on a tablet.

MACALOPE: Uh, too specific. And unlikely.

WINOTAUR: Fine. Here’s the problem it solves: How you can have one device that does it all. Without compromise.

MACALOPE: How does a device with 16GB of free space “do it all”?

WINOTAUR: If you want to “do it all” do it all, you need to get the Surface Pro. That’s the one that does it all. Uncompromisingly.

MACALOPE: At laptop prices and battery life? With tablet-level storage?

WINOTAUR: Oh, shut up!

MACALOPE: There you go. That was the right timing.

WINOTAUR: I knew I’d need to say it at some point during this conversation.

MACALOPE: Hey, the Macalope thinks it’s too early to stick a fork in the Surface. But if he were in charge at Microsoft he’d start working on a plan B. One that doesn’t involve Windows, for God’s sake.

WINOTAUR: Well, that’s not bad advice. … So … what’s Apple working on right now?

MACALOPE: The Macalope’s not at liberty to say.

WINOTAUR: Just stomp your hoof twice if it’s a TV.

MACALOPE: [sigh]

Kremlinology for dummies

It’s nice to see that the old trades haven’t completely died off. They may have killed off the buggy-whip industry, but they haven’t killed off the industry of overanalyzing the words of Apple executives.

Back when Steve Jobs was running the show (anyone remember those days of yore?), people would dissect his every terse, dismissive email for clues about Apple’s next move. Well, this week, we have two whole interviews with Tim Cook to dig into so … let the Zaprudering begin!

Writing for The Street, Chris Ciaccia took up not one but two pages of speculation on Cook’s comments about Apple upgrading televisions from a “hobby” to “an area of intense interest.” Well, two and a half if compared side by side, which really opens up a lot of questions about what makes a page size on the Internet. But let’s leave that for now. We have words to obsess over!

Over at the New York Times’s Bits blog, Nick Bilton was effusive:

Apple customers have been yearning for it for years.

We yearn. That’s a thing we apparently do. You may not have noticed it, but it’s in the New York Times, so …

And now, it seems, the chief executive of Apple, Timothy D. Cook, wants one too: an Apple-made television.

Is that what he said? Here’s what he said:

“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years,” Mr. Cook told Mr. Williams. “It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

Ugh, jeez, you’re not giving us a lot to work with, here, Tim.

Jim Dalrymple says don’t count your Apple television sets before they’re shipping:

What Tim didn’t say is that Apple would be making their own television. His comments could be directed towards the content on the TV or how we interact with the device.

There are two problems with television. One is how we interact with the devices themselves. That’s a smaller, much easier problem to fix, particularly for a company like Apple. The second one is how to fix the television industry, with its antiquated sensibilities and long-standing arcane legal agreements that say cable companies get to run movies 9000 times every Sunday afternoon for 46 and 1/3 months before you punks can watch them on the Internets.

Slapping an Apple TV into a television isn’t solving the bigger part of the problem. But Cook’s words do make it look like Apple may have cracked this egg.

Oh, great, now the Macalope’s doing it.

Love hurts, but dumb hurts more

Straight up, this one’s gonna hurt.

“Tim Cook makes his pitch to win back Apple aficionados”

Uh … win back?

What would it take to make you love Apple again?

Well, it’d be nice if it brought home flowers for once. Did the dishes. Maybe took the Macalope out someplace nice. Like we used to do, you know? Is that asking too much?

What is with this myth that Apple has somehow lost fans? Do people like the Guardian’s Heidi Moore not realize that it’s possible to increase the number of people who buy your products while your market share stays the same, or even falls?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because the answer is obviously yes.

Tim Cook, the company’s CEO, is trying to find out.

Sure. He’s not just out there doing some smart promotion. He’s trying to fix a horrible problem.

Translation: we’re still the same old company you loved under Steve Jobs. In fact, we’re not just a company. We’re a religion. Please, please, baby, start worshipping us again.

Some days the Macalope wishes it was a religion, because the tech press is in desperate need of some purges.

So the things that other companies do, and that consumers largely accept – outsourcing, paying workers modest wages, occasionally waffling on a product launch – are considered anathema if Apple does them.

But not by its fans. Only its jerktastic detractors who call the company a religion.

In the past year, we’ve found out something very interesting about Apple: the company’s hard-won reputation for perfection and its idealized image were not, it turned out, as perfect as the crisp (and patented) rounded lines of an iPad. The perfectly shiny Gorilla glass over the Apple corporate image can crack like a fallen iPhone, and in 2012 it did.

Meanwhile, digesting the journalism about Apple can be like eating a dozen glazed doughnuts: sickeningly sugary and headache-inducing.

Moore then runs through the same old laundry list of supposed Apple scandals. You know, the ones that people with an axe to grind will obsess over and that customers might grouse about if they even knew they existed. But customers are rarely spurred to action by these alleged transgressions. And what are they going to do, exactly? Buy cell phones from those nice companies that don’t use overworked Chinese labor?

All of these insults to the Apple brand might have been borne, maybe …

MAYBE.

… until the biggest insult of all came …

Having to read this piece?

… a steady and otherwise mystifying drop in Apple’s stock price.

Some of it’s actually not that mystifying, not that you’d ever know the actual bad news from reading Moore’s column. With her it’s all portents and tea leaves. But in its last quarterly conference call, the company said that margins were tightening. Not drastically, but its high margins are one of the things that make the company’s stock attractive.

Much of the rest of the drop has to do with the fact that the major indices are also down during the same period, spurred by worries about alien invasions or something or other related to the economy. The rest is probably from the fact that many investors startle as easily as caffeinated cattle and have a tendency to read ridiculous columns like Moore’s and subsequently stampede over a cliff.

… such a sharp drop looks like a pretty clear reproach from investors.

Let us marvel at the plumpness of the cherries Moore is picking here. They certainly are red and juicy, aren’t they? Apple’s stock is up 40 percent over the last year. But all that matters is the “reproach” the company’s gotten since falling from—conveniently—its high water mark in September.

The crazy-making thing about pieces like this is that there is room to speculate about flaws and blind spots that Apple may have. But skimming the fluff off the top of the news of the day does not analysis make.

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